Don’t Sleep on These 2024 Mighty Real / Queer Detroit Events

Live performances, presentations and tributes supplement biennial city-wide art show

Madeleine Aitken

In 2022, patrick burton embarked on a journey to highlight queer artists, and Mighty Real / Queer Detroit was born: an organization committed to honoring, showing and promoting LGBTQ+ art. In June 2022, MR/QD hosted its inaugural biennial, a month-long exhibition devoted to 77 Years of Detroit LGBTQ+ art (1945-2022) with over 700 works of art created by more than 150 queer artists shown in 17 galleries across the region. 

Inspired in part by a Velvet Underground song, MR/QD returns with “I’ll Be Your Mirror: Reflections of the Contemporary Queer.” It will bring over 800 works from over 170 artists to 11 galleries across Detroit throughout June. “To highlight the exhibition's theme, we added ‘Reflections of the Contemporary Queer,'" burton said.

Installations at The CARR Center, Detroit Artists Market, detroit contemporary, the Elaine Jacob Gallery, Galerie Camille, Kayrod Gallery and the Scarab Club will open to visitors on May 31, kicking off the event. On June 1, Hatch Art and Irwin House will open their exhibitions, and on June 2, Center Galleries (College for Creative Studies) will open theirs. The Anton Art Center begins showing its pieces later in the month on June 15. All exhibitions will close June 30. 

"The exhibition presents emerging artists, established artists and elders; we have artists who have exhibited in major museums like MoMA, the Whitney, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art," burton said. "We have art coming to Detroit from all over the country and the world." 

Separate from art installations on display in gallery spaces, MR/QD will hold a series of events throughout June. "Most of the artists who are part of the additional programming are also visual artists displaying their work," burton explained.

Don’t miss these selected performance pieces, documentary shorts, presentations and panel discussions. 

Art Lovers
May 31, 5 to 8 p.m., Elaine Jacob Gallery, Wayne State University

Wayne Coe begins the month of programming with a performative piece titled “Art Lovers.” It’s a challenge of capitalism and male hierarchy in the art world, burton said. 

"Coe is inspired by vintage porn ads from the ‘70s and '80s found in the back of gay publications," he added. "They're playful, black sand paintings that challenge the contemporary art world and how it works." 

Coe, whose work will be displayed at the gallery as part of MR/QD, is an interdisciplinary artist whose mediums include performance, painting, ceramics and drawings. Sand painting has a long history across cultures; Coe’s piece “Art Lovers” puts a new and creative spin on the process. And by making his sand painting a performance piece, audiences will be able to watch Coe create “Art Lovers” in real time.

Queer Documentary Shorts
June 6, 7 to 10 p.m., Detroit Film Theatre, Detroit Institute of Arts

Brooklyn-based filmmaker Adam Baran has curated a selection of his favorite LGBTQ+ documentary shorts from the past four years to create an intergenerational portrait of our lives in our current perilous climate.

“The films have been selected specifically to complement the theme of the visual art in the exhibition,” burton said. 

The program includes seven films, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes in length, covering different topics, communities and settings. For example, there’s “Queenie,” about a 73-year-old Black lesbian applying to Stonewall Residences, New York’s first affordable housing for LGBTQ+ elders. “Merman,” about a 58-year-old Black queer man’s life as an emergency nurse, leather titleholder and civil rights advocate, provides another portrait of queer life. There’s also “Out of the Corner of Our Eye,” which covers seven iconic, formerly queer spaces in Los Angeles that are no longer what they once were, a reflection on what queer space looks like today. 

The goal of the shorts, Baran said in a statement, is to “witness firsthand how issues like isolation, climate catastrophe, racism, transphobia and gentrification are impacting our lives today,” while also illustrating “moments of beauty, joy and hard-fought freedom.” 

Artwork by Linda Simpson. Courtesy photo
Artwork by Linda Simpson. Courtesy photo

The Drag Explosion
June 14, 7 to 8:15 p.m., Walter B. Ford Auditorium, College for Creative Studies 

Linda Simpson, a New York City drag queen, spent the 1980s and 1990s with a camera in her hand, shooting the scene in photographs that would eventually come to document the rise and fall of a golden era of drag. Set against the background of the AIDS crisis and gay activism, when drag was still an underground art form, Simpson’s photos have been featured in art exhibits, documentaries, magazine articles and books. 

“Simpson has been part of New York drag for decades,” burton said. “Her photos take me back to the underground scene that shook the East Village.” 

Simpson has turned those images into two books, “PAGES” and “The Drag Explosion,” and an accompanying slideshow “The Drag Explosion,” with photos and narration, that she has presented internationally. As part of “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” she’ll bring her photographic tribute to Detroit.

A Tribute to Big Mama Thornton
June 22, 7 to 10 p.m., The CARR Center

Big Mama Thornton, the legendary blues and R&B singer and songwriter, will be inducted into the Rock & Rock Hall of Fame this year. Poet, performer and visual artist Pamela Sneed has created a musical in honor of Mama Thornton, a largely unsung hero, which she will perform at The CARR Center as part of “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” In what burton called a “stunning one-woman tribute,” Sneed, accompanied by a band, will cover Thorton’s greatest hits. When she premiered her show at the Armory in March 2023, it broke a record for the earliest performance ever sold out.

Beyond her performance piece, Sneed is also a writer and a visual artist whose work has been exhibited at the The Ford Foundation. She brings this multidisciplinary artistry to “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” with some of her watercolor paintings showing in the exhibition at The CARR Center. 

Queer Night Life: Disco, House, and the Rave Scene 1970s to Present
June 23, 7 to 9 p.m., Walter B. Ford Auditorium, College for Creative Studies

“I’ll Be Your Mirror” will include two panel discussions, one with the Leslie-Lohman Museum about art as activism and another on disco, house and the rave scene in Detroit. 

“We’d really like the conversation to focus on what it takes to create safe spaces for the queer community, what some of the challenges are, and what the benefits are,” said Adriel Thornton, who will moderate the discussion. “Those [disco, house and rave] scenes were initially adopted by the queer community before the broader community," Thornton added. 

Thornton has been promoting events in metro Detroit for 32 years, primarily focusing on electronic music, including events like FAMILY, Motor City Pride and Dally in the Alley. 

Memories of a Supernatural AIDS Crisis
June 29, 7 to 8 p.m., Hilberry Gateway

An assistant professor in the Theatre and Dance department at Wayne State University, Marc Arthur has created a queer performance piece set in Detroit, one hundred years in the future. 

“The traumatic loss of a generation of artists in the early years of the AIDS pandemic has been a powerful directive for me as a queer artist,” Arthur said. “This performance is an effort to connect with that past and to meditate on a speculative future in which the systemic conditions of AIDS are reimagined, transformed and brought into a space of joy.” 

Arthur has been making performances of this sort for the past 15 years; this one will be a combination of dance, drama and song. “Audiences can expect a thrilling sci-fi journey through Detroit, the last surviving city on earth 100 years in the future with two queer beings who discover supernatural abilities as they embody memories from HIV/AIDS history,” he said. 

Written and directed by Arthur, “Memories of a Supernatural AIDS Crisis” will be performed by Notorious Pink Flowers, Yolanda Jack and Joe Smentowski. 

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Stephanie Crawford. Photo: Mighty Real / Queer Detroit

An Evening with Stephanie Crawford, Jazz Chanteuse
Sunday, June 30, 7 to 9 p.m., The CARR Center 

A Detroit native, Stephanie Crawford is a visual artist and a celebrated jazz singer. 

“She grew up in Detroit's Black Bottom. In the ‘80s, she moved to New York City, singing in clubs like the Blue Note and queer venues like the Pyramid. Later, she moved to Paris and was awarded the Django d'Or award for Best International Jazz Vocalist in 1993,” burton said. 

“An elder in our world community,” burton said, Crawford will perform an evening of jazz music to close out the “I’ll Be Your Mirror” month of programming.


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